How To Strike Creative Gold

picture of woman holding gold nuggetLast week, your writing seemed fine.

Well, maybe not fine, but at least okay.

The plot and pacing in your story worked well enough. Your poetry flowed. You like where your nonfiction outline was headed.

Then, whammo!

Out of nowhere, your imagination runs dry.

Today, nothing’s right when you write. You struggle with the blank page, clawing for each word. In fact, your entire writing session feels like a complete waste of time.

Is it an off-day…a slump…writer’s block?

Worse, have you lost your gift forever?

No matter what you call it, the truth is…

It’s a problem.

You don’t like it when you can’t write. You feel shaky and abandoned.

 

Why Do Writers Lose Their Creativity?

 

We don’t “lose” our creativity. We can’t just go to the Lost & Found to reclaim our muse.

Life ebbs and flows. No one writes brilliantly all the time. If they say they do, they’re lying.

When you understand what hurts or helps your imagination, you have a better chance of striking creative gold more often.

Sadly, there are endless ways that writers use and abuse themselves. Here are the top five creativity killers.

 

1. Fear 

 

Fear is the #1 killer of creativity. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of 1,000,001 terrifying situations that all end badly.

Fear paralyzes new writers as well as New York Times bestselling authors. That’s fear’s job.

To keep us from writing. To not let our fire burn bright. To keep the status quo.

Yes, it’s intimidating as hell to be on page four of a four-hundred page novel, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

One of my favorite Write to Done blog posts taught me a great trick for dealing with fear.

What’s interesting is that fear is actually a good sign for writers. Self-doubt points to what we want to do. The more something scares you, the more important it is that you write about it.

Let fear guide you to greatness.

 

2. Perfectionism 

 

This is a socially acceptable form of abuse. Seriously.

Most writers suffer from good ol’ feelings of “not good enough.”  Constantly criticizing your work becomes a vicious cycle.

Writing is delicious, but messy. It’s like any other skill – the more you practice, the better you become.

Creativity is not a linear process.

Give yourself room for sucky first drafts. Let yourself make mistakes. Lighten up, and your imagination will thank you with new ideas, stronger prose and more confidence.

 

3. Busyness 

 

Society works 24/7 these days. Overscheduling is almost a way of life.

Many people feel they have to say “yes” to every project, regardless of their schedule, because they don’t live on a guaranteed paycheck.

No matter how much (or little) you write, you need time and space in order to create. We all do. Our minds need downtime to just daydream…ponder…rest.

 

4. Procrastination 

 

This may be the most popular creative killer because it’s so darn easy to rationalize.

Yes, the dishes need washing, the laundry needs folding, and that work email should be sent today. However, most chores and many other time wasters can be done after you write.

Don’t let your list of To Do’s keep you from what you want to do – write.

 

5. Health

 

It’s interesting how we physically hurt our artistic selves, because it’s one of the few areas in our lives over which we have some control.

You’ve heard this before, but going back to the basics will do wonders when you’re struggling.

  • Get enough sleep:  7 – 9 hours is best.
  • Eat nutritious foods:  Lose the fast food. Sugar is the devil! Alcohol is sugar, people. It’s fine to aspire to write like F. Scott Fitzgerald, but don’t drink yourself to death like him.
  • Exercise: You don’t have to go to the gym, just move your body in a way that’s fun for at least 20 minutes a day.

 

Burnout is a horrible combination of any or all of the above.

Either you’ve experienced success and run out of steam, or maybe you want to write a new genre and are afraid of how your audience will respond.

Plus, I’ve seen vicious online reviews scar authors forever.

Equally as depressing is the case for writers who’ve tried for years, with little payoff – neither publication, nor much income from their writing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Strike Creative Gold – In Just Minutes a Day

 

When I first stumbled on this process years ago, I was very much a broken writer. I was devastated at having just parted ways with my literary agent.

I happened to pick up a needlepoint project I’d started, but never finished. I sat on my couch and needlepointed for a few minutes. My mind whirled from pain, then… my thoughts sort of spaced out.

Nothing miraculous happened to me, but during that brief time, I lost myself in the ritual of looping the thread through the canvas over and over.

It felt hypnotic. The hurt was still there, but I needlepointed the next day… and the next…

In the following weeks, I discovered I was recovering from my literary heartbreak. I even thought of a great plot for my fourth novel (which I’ve since completed).

You don’t have to needlepoint. I haven’t done so since then.

 

How to Mine Inspirational Gold

 

Whether you feel crushed like I did, or just want to hit the mother lode more often, try this exercise.

Find a few minutes every day for some creative downtime.

The dictionary describes downtime as “time spent not working.”

  • Pick a solitary, repetitive activity to quiet your thoughts. Think “mindless.”
  • Do your downtime activity around the same time every day for 5 – 15 minutes. Of course, the longer you do it, the more it helps. However, some is better than none.
  • Make it something you don’t typically do. If you’re a jogger, don’t run during your downtime.
  • You do not have to empty your mind. It’s okay if your thoughts wander.
  • Try your downtime activity for two weeks to see results. It may take longer, depending on how weakened you feel creatively. (It took me five weeks of needlepointing each day before I felt better.)

 

So what can you choose as your downtime activity? You could walk through your neighborhood, do yoga, doodle, or dance in your living room.

Or you might prefer to meditate, garden, sing tunes you make up, watch the sun rise or set, draw, paint, crochet, knit, bang on a drum or strum a guitar repetitively.

You might even choose mindless housework like dusting, vacuuming etc. The possibilities are endless.

What you want to avoid are activities that require focus, such as answering emails, writing notes, organizing files and so on.

 

 

Consistency with your downtime activity trains your brain in two important ways:

  1. It gives your mind the time and space to recharge its creative juices.
  2. You give yourself the permission to not produce, to just be present in the moment.

 

Cell phones need recharging each day. Our creativity does, too.

Warning: Don’t be surprised if you resist doing your downtime activity at first, or decide midway that it’s not working, or even stupid.

That’s fear trying to keep you from writing. Don’t let it stop you from pursuing your dreams.

Of course, you can always look for inspiration.

But giving yourself some well-deserved downtime is a surefire way to help you strike creative gold.

What do you do to mine your creativity? Share in the comments!

 

About the author: 

Marcy McKay is the Energizer Bunny of Writers. She’s an award-winning copywriter/freelance journalist who created Mudpie Writing for writers to fight their creative monsters together. Download her free eBook: Write on Fire: Learn 8 Secrets to Overcome Writer’s Block and Pursue Your Dreams.

Image: Woman writing courtesy of Bigstockphoto

 

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30 thoughts on “How To Strike Creative Gold”

  • Hi Marcy,

    I enjoyed reading your post today. I usually take my downtime for reading or thinking of a new project or a new paragraph to add to something I am writing. I always feel guilty when I am not doing something towards my writing or business.

    You have point out some great reasons for downtime to actually be nothing constructive at all to let your mind recharge.

    Have a wonderful day.
    Monna Ellithorpe recently posted..6 Part Social Media Series -Cross Posting -YouTube vs IBOTube #3My Profile

    • Hi, Monna. Leave guilt BEHIND, my friend. Your brain NEEDS that downtime to be more creative and productive. Think of that cell phone that must be recharged daily. Thanks for the comment.

      Marcy McKay

  • Gemma says:

    This is a great post and exactly what I needed to read today, thank you!
    Gemma recently posted..Review: Brighton Rock – Graham GreeneMy Profile

  • Sheri Cook says:

    Your post is EXACTLY what i needed during my emptiness right now with my writing. I am encouraged. Thank You!!

  • Oh, Sheri! I’m so glad that we found each other. I could’ve written a million more words on the dark place I’ve found myself throughout my writing career. I hope you’ll try this exercise. Please be VERY gentle and patient with yourself during this time (something I’m spectacular at for others, but not so much for myself). It’s slow-going, but it does work.

    I would be happy to be a cheerleader for you as you crawl out of that empty place. I promise that you’ve already a tiny bit better because you had the courage to reach out and share your truth. Best of luck to you!

    Marcy McKay
    Marcy McKay recently posted..When is the Perfect Time to Write?My Profile

  • Patrick says:

    Creative downtime? Are you nuts?

    Pursue your dreams by not pursuing your dreams. Doublespeak.

  • Rafe says:

    Thanks, there’s a lot of ideas to work with here.

    • You’re so right, Rafe. Try whichever one speaks to you most. What works for one person, might not for another. The point is to just keep trying until you find the one(s) that click best for you. Thanks for stopping by and hope things are going well in wooing your Muse again.

      Marcy McKay
      Marcy McKay recently posted..When is the Perfect Time to Write?My Profile

  • Kate says:

    Thanks for this, Marcy. I had a big slump in writing recently and I started hula-hooping – it takes a while to master it but it’s definitely repetitive and my mind is free to wander and recharge. Plus it’s good for the waist!

  • PaulJosaph says:

    I would add “specialization” in work. It’s good to focus, but not too narrowly, if you want to stretch yourself and feel even remotely creative as a business writer. And it’s interesting to look for ways to improve your writing across different media, disciplines, and industries. I feel like my business/technology and nonprofit writing are each improved (at least in small ways) by exposure to the other sector.

    Thanks as always for a helpful, informative post.

    • Terrific insights, Paul. I agree completely that stretching in other areas, benefits our writing overall. You sound quite savvy and I’m sure you’ve a very talented writer. Thanks for your comment and best of luck to you.

      Marcy McKay

  • Great post today. I like the combination of things that bog us down and some ideas for getting going again.

    • You’re so right, Ginger. One way or another, life always bogs us down. The point of this post was to point us towards things that get us going again. What works for me may not work for you, so we all need to keep trying until we discover what does help us. I appreciate you taking time to comment and wish you well in your writing.

      Marcy McKay

  • My mind is hard to turn off, but what I find helps relax me is to pet a cat. Weird? Maybe, but it works. By switching my focus, my thoughts eventually turn toward something other than myself, my work, my writing, my website improvement and maintenance, etc. Marvelling in the wondrousness of living with animals diverts my attention every time!

  • I’m right there with you about my thoughts, Lorraine. I have a saying that it’s hard to keep my mind and behind in the same place. Petting your cat is a PERFECT example of creative downtime…repetitive, other-minded and calming. Bravo! Best of luck with your work, writing, etc.

    Marcy McKay
    Marcy McKay recently posted..When is the Perfect Time to Write?My Profile

  • Britta Coleman says:

    Great post, Marcy. Because of this post, I picked up some knitting yesterday before my writing time…and found that my writing time was more productive as a result of the downtime. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Lesley says:

    An interesting article with some even more interesting comments. I used to enjoy a lngthy scented bath as my downtime activity, but these days I find I just spend the time thinking aboutwhtever I’m writing. To prevent that, I’ve taken up writing, not more books or articles, I write long newsy letters and email them. I can’t think about my writing project while I’m doing that, and it helps me stay in touch which is important since all my friends and relatives are an ocean away.

    • I LOVE that, Lesley. It sounds like you’ve already found some Creative Downtime that works for you. Fantastic and Happy Writing!

      Marcy McKay

  • I definitely gotten into a few writers blocks myself and I got to agree a mindless task is so very helpful. I go for bike rides when I start to get burnout and it is truly great to just focus on my surrounds and the bike and let everything else go.

  • Yes, yes, yes, Amanda! You SO understand Creative Downtime. As I read your post, I pictured myself pedaling my bike through my own neighborhood, and felt a wave of relaxation. That’s the key to doing something “other-minded” — to let everything else go. Thanks for sharing!
    Marcy McKay recently posted..Five Tips to Create the Right Writing Schedule for YouMy Profile

  • Jimmy R. says:

    Thank you for the tips Marcy.

    What I usually do on my downtime is throw a tennis ball using my left hand on the wall and catch it with the same hand as it bounces back.

    Because I’m right handed, I usually end up focusing just trying to catch the ball and it really takes my mind off of things.

    To those of you who haven’t tried this, you really ought to give this a shot. It never fails to give my mind that refreshing feeling after I get back to the keyboard and start writing again. I hope this helps. :)

    Jimmy R.
    Freelance Writer
    http://guildofbloggers.com
    Jimmy R. recently posted..The A – Z Guide to Guest Posting That Will Help You Grow Your BlogMy Profile

  • Jasonc says:

    I like your point 1 and 2, many times i lost my creativity because I need Perfectionism and Fear I cannot deliver the good work!

    I usual jog during the evening time to keep myself fresh and release my tension. Your article is great !

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